Brady Russell thriving in role with CU Buffs offense

Sophomore tight end has played nearly every snap with the first-team offense this season

The Colorado offense is loaded with weapons, many of which have already had big games for the Buffaloes this season.

During CU’s 2-0 start, Alex Fontenot and Jaren Mangham have starred at running back, while Laviska Shenault, Tony Brown and KD Nixon and others have made big plays as receivers.

DENVER, CO - Aug. 30, 2019: ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado tight end Brady Russell, right, blocks for quarterback Steven Montez during a long run against Colorado State on Aug. 30 in Denver.

Throughout the course of each game, however, the one constant is Brady Russell. The sophomore tight end and former walk-on has quietly been one of the Buffs’ best players on offense this season.

“Brady is one of those guys who kind of just does everything right, down to the minute details,” quarterback Steven Montez said. “He just does everything right, plays hard every single play. Very physical, very tough.

“It’s fantastic having him on the offense because he’s one of those guys that is nice and calm the entire game. Just plain and simple, he does everything right.”

That might explain why Russell is on the field so much. Among the skill position players (receivers, running backs, tight ends), nobody has played more than Russell. CU doesn’t track snaps played for skill positions, but unofficially, Russell has been on the field for 130 of 135 snaps by the first-team offense; no other skill player has had even 100 snaps played.

“It’s so much fun,” Russell said. “It’s a grind, but I love it. Just playing the whole game, really getting into it, it’s fun.”

Most of what Russell does is the dirty work. He’s often seen blocking for the running backs or Montez, or helping his receivers get open for big plays.

“I don’t worry about any credit,” he said. “I just love seeing my teammates succeed, too, and I know a lot of the times when I’m blocking that can lead to big plays, so I’m just happy to score (as a team), happy to get people in the end zone. I don’t care who it is.”

In the Buffs’ wins over Colorado State and Nebraska, team blocking has been essential. The offensive line is always tasked with that job, but the skill position players have come up with huge blocks at times.

“I feel like (the tight ends and backs) are a lot better at communicating this year and we do a lot better working together with the offensive line,” Russell said. “The receivers, too. They’re putting in a great effort outside, which is emphasized a lot more this year. I feel like blocking wise, we’re almost a whole different team, which is good.”

Use of the tight end is much different, too.

Under former head coach Mike MacIntyre, the Buffs rarely threw to the tight ends. From 2016-18, CU completed 782 passes, but only 17 of those (2.2 percent) went to tight ends. Last year, Russell led the tight ends with five catches for 41 yards.

Already this year, the tight ends have eight catches, and Russell has six for 75 yards.

“I think it adds a whole other aspect (to the offense),” Russell said. “In reality, last year they didn’t even have to cover us. I had (five) catches on the whole season. It’s fun getting to add something new to the offense, and a whole new element.”

With the Buffs using Russell on nearly every play and senior Jalen Harris for occasional two-tight ends sets, there are sure to be a lot more opportunities for the tight ends the rest of this season.

Whether it’s catching passes or blocking, though, Russell is happy to have a big role with the Buffs’ offense.

“I feel like every game I get a little bit better,” he said. “I get more and more reps, you learn how to run your offense better, learn how other players’ minds work (on defense) so you can use their momentum against them.

“I feel like my game has elevated, for sure.”